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17 September 2014
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Wetlands Activities - Swan safari

Whooper Swan c/o RSPB Images/Sue Tranter

Autumn is a great time for Swan spotting. It's the time when wild swans arrive from their breeding grounds in Iceland and the Arctic tundra. Look to the skies and watch their arrival in mid October and November.


Whooping good time! Image: RSPB Images and Sue Tranter

Welney Whooper Swans c/o RSPB Images/Michael Selby)Most of the Whoopers come from Iceland and are capable of making the 600 mile flight in a single journey.

These are referred to as wild swans to differentiate them from the resident Mute Swans in Britain.

Good places for Swan spotting

Welney Reserve (Norfolk), Lough Foyle (Northern Ireland) and Ouse Washes (Norfolk)

Also worth a visit: Caerlaverock (Solway Firth), Abbotsbury (The Fleet), Martin Mere (Lancashire), Lough Neagh (Northern Ireland) and Slimbridge (Gloucestershire).

Know your swans...

There are several different types of swan in the British Isles which can be easily identified.

Bewick's Swan

Bewick Swan c/o RSPB Images and RichardsBewick's Swans are the smallest and rarest of the three species of wild swan found in the UK.

This swan is more goose-like in shape, has a shorter neck and a more rounded yellow and variable bill compared with the Whooper Swan.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan c/o RSPB Images/Sue TranterWhooper Swans are bigger than the Bewick's Swan and are distinguished by their noisy 'whoop whoop' call.

The Whooper can also be identified by the large triangular yellow wedge on its bill.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan (Image: RSPB Images/Chris Gomersall)Mute Swans can be seen year round in the UK. They have a distinctive long S-shaped neck.

They are mostly silent - hence the name - but in flight the wings make a lovely 'whau-whau' sound.

Mute Swans have orange bills whilst Bewick's and Whoopers have black beaks, with some orange patterns.

Swan spotting - top tips

* Timing is important. Whooper Swans start heading to the British Isles around mid October to mid November.

* Listen out for the distinctive whoop and honking sound made by Whooper Swans.

* When visiting a nature reserve with wild swans, scan the neighbouring fields. The swans will often fly into the fields during the day to feed on stubble or sugar beet tops. They return in the early evening, gliding in for an unforgettable wildlife spectacle at dusk.

* Watch carefully when Whooper Swans are feeding in the late afternoon. When they are ready for the off, their heads will go up and down frenetically, a signal that they are about to fly.

* Check out special swan watching events. Many bird reserves run swan feeding sessions. At Welney in Norfolk this takes place during the late afternoon and early evening when they turn the floodlights on for a feeding spectacle.

* Swans are most commonly found in wetland areas, estuaries and close to waterways.

* Whooper Swans are most commonly found in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Northern England and East Anglia.

* Bewick Swans arrive in Britain in mid-October following their breeding season in Siberia. The best areas to find them are East England, the Severn estuary, Lancashire (Martin Mere) and Slimbridge.

* Mute Swans can be seen widely across the British Isles where there are shallow lakes and slow-flowing rivers. Often to be spotted in urban parks.

Whooper Swans c/o CaerlaverockPhoto credits

Image of group of swans courtesy and copyright of David Featherbe and Welney WWT.

Small Swan image copyright of RSPB Images, Sue Tranter, Chris Gomersall and Mike Richards. Pair of Whoopers courtesy of Caerlaverock WWT.



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